French hopes flagging on Tour de 'Lose'

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Regional newspaper Le Progres groaned over the long wait for a home Tour de France stage winner this weekend with the scathing headline "Blue, Blanc, Lose", a play on the French tri-colour using lose instead of Rouge.

The issue has become both a hot topic and a hot potato on an enthralling Tour featuring fans galore, eye-catching panoramas and an epic title struggle after Jonas Vingegaard knocked champion Tadej Pogacar off his perch in an Alpine stage for the ages.

Danes and Belgians have won three stages in this pulsating 109th edition of the world's most prestigious bike race, the Dutch, Slovenians and Australians twice -- but France is still sighing with disappointment.

Britain's Tom Pidcock and Bob Jungels of Luxembourg won the other stages, but at least the latter races for a French team -- AG2R.

The charismatic climber Thibaut Pinot of the FDJ outfit has come closest for France, with a long-range bid Saturday giving him a third place for the second time.

"I'm so disappointed," said Pinot, reflecting the general mood of French cycling.

"It takes a little bit of luck, a little bit of legs, a little bit of everything," he said.

A man who seems to make his own luck, Julian Alaphilippe was described as "the Darling of France" as he dashed around in the overall leader's yellow jersey for most of the 2018 Tour.

France's double world champion Alaphilippe won a stage on each of the last four Tours, but hit a tree at high speed in the build-up to this one.

His swashbuckling win on stage 1 last year is France's last, meaning that if no French rider wins Sunday's run to Carcassonne on stage 15, the wait stretches to 36 stages and counting.

- Pyrenees provides perfect platform -

But France may not have to wait too long, with a trilogy of Pyrenean Mountain stages coming up next week and a trident of domestic hopes capable of delivering what French fans often love best, a sudden burst of Gallic flair delivering triumph in the face of adversity.

Pinot himself has previously achieved this, sending his emotional team boss Marc Madiot into delirium on the Col du Tourmalet in 2019.

"I'm looking forwards to the Pyrenees, those long climbs are the kind that suit me," he said, and his recent win on the Tour de Suisse suggests this is more than bluster.

Pinot's younger teammate David Gaudu is also talking up a fight after finding his form on Saturday's final climb accompanied by blockbuster crowds.

"I unleashed the horses and boy did they run. Now I'm in the mood for it and I can't wait to get to the Pyrenees," he said.

Gaudu is eighth in the overall leaderboard, just 4min 24sec off the lead.

Ahead of him is Romain Bardet in fourth breathing down Ineos leader Geraint Thomas's neck.

"Romain seems to be on the form of his life," Thomas warned this week warning that Vingegaard and Pogacar have a series of challengers.

Bardet himself was more gloomy on the issue.

"It'll have to be an ambush, Vingegaard and Pogacar are superior to the rest of us, there are four of us all fighting for third place," he said.

Bardet suggested he would sacrifice a potential place on the podium in Paris for a stage win.

"If I get even a glimpse of an opportunity I'll go for it even if it's risky, a stage win remains my top priority," said Bardet.

France would certainly thank him for it.

dmc/imm